King Lear


William Shakespeare

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Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Analysis

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Themes and Colors
Fathers, Children, and Siblings Theme Icon
Authority and Order Theme Icon
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon
Old Age Theme Icon
Fooling and Madness Theme Icon
Blindness and Insight Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in King Lear, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Theme Icon

Although Lear begins as a figure of authority and order, when he gives up his power and Goneril and Regan turn against him, he falls apart, going mad. Moreover, his personal decline parallels a farther-reaching dissolution of order and justice in the British state. Lear's error, based on blindness and misjudgment, doesn't just ruin him personally. It leads to a political situation in which there is no order to guarantee justice, despite his (and Gloucester's) repeated appeals to the gods.

Cordelia's first answer to Lear's command that she pronounce her love for him, the answer that first enrages him against her, is (in 1.1) is "nothing." After that first appearance, the word "nothing" recurs constantly throughout the play in the mouths of multiple characters. The repetition of this word highlights the theme of nothingness, and of the complete lack of meaning that results from nothingness – after all, when everything is destroyed, it is not possible to compare anything to anything else, and in such a void, without any ability to compare, nothing can have any meaning. And, ultimately, it is hard to argue that the ending of the play offers any justice at all: while the "bad guys" of Edmund, Goneril, Regan, and Cornwall are all killed, so are the heroes of Lear, Gloucester, and Cordelia. Nearly the entire social order, good and bad, is annihilated and turned to nothing. As Lear himself cries out in the moments before he dies, while holding the dead Cordelia in his arms, with his kingdom destroyed: "Never, never, never, never, never" (5.3.372).

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Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness Quotes in King Lear

Below you will find the important quotes in King Lear related to the theme of Disintegration, Chaos, Nothingness.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
"Nothing will come of nothing."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.99
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
"Thou, Nature, art my goddess."
Related Characters: Edmund (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.1
Explanation and Analysis:
"These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us."
Related Characters: Gloucester (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.109-110
Explanation and Analysis:
"As if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion."
Related Characters: Edmund (speaker)
Page Number: 1.2.128-129
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 3 Quotes
"I will preserve myself, and am bethought
To take the basest and most poorest shape
That ever penury in contempt of man
Brought near to beast."
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals, Clothing and Costumes
Page Number: 2.3.6-9
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, scene 4 Quotes
"O sir, you are old.
Nature I you stands on the very verge
Of his confine."
Related Characters: Regan (speaker), King Lear
Page Number: 2.4.164-166
Explanation and Analysis:
"O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man's life is cheap as beast's."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 2.4.304-307
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
"Here's a night pities neither wise men nor fools."
Related Characters: Fool (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.14-15
Explanation and Analysis:
"The art of our necessities is strange
And can make vile things precious."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker)
Page Number: 3.2.76-77
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, scene 4 Quotes
"Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness defend you
From seasons such as these? O I have taken
Too little care of this."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker)
Page Number: 3.4.32-37
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 1 Quotes
"The worst is not
So long as we can say 'This is the worst.'"
Related Characters: Edgar (speaker)
Page Number: 4.1.30-31
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 2 Quotes
"The nature which contemns its origin
Cannot be bordered certain in itself."
Related Characters: Albany (speaker), Goneril
Page Number: 4.2.41-42
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, scene 6 Quotes
"Gloucester: Oh let me kiss that hand!
Lear: Let me wipe it first; it smells of mortality."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker), Gloucester (speaker)
Page Number: 4.6.147-148
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, scene 3 Quotes
"Howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones!
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vault should crack. She's gone forever."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 5.3.308-310
Explanation and Analysis:
"No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou'lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never."
Related Characters: King Lear (speaker), Cordelia
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 5.3.369-372
Explanation and Analysis: